By Robert Woolf

The 2013 NFL season is already underway. On Saturday, NFL greats Bill Parcells, Jonathan Ogden, Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Warren Sapp, Curley Culp, and Dave Robinson were inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. On Sunday, the preseason kicked off with a Cowboys victory over the Dolphins by a score of 24-20 in the Hall of Fame Game. The NFL regular season is set to kick-off on September 5, with the defending champion Baltimore Ravens facing off against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. This NFL season is going to be a chance for proven players, such as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, to once again assert themselves as top of the league and take home some more hardware. Young players will have a chance to prove themselves to try and take home some awards of their own. As the season has not even started yet, predicting who will win these prestigious awards is very, very difficult. However I give you my best shot in this Preseason Edition of my “2013 NFL Award Predictions” series.

AP Offensive Rookie of the Year- Tavon Austin, WR St. Louis Rams

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“He might be the most explosive player I have ever seen. In my life.” Mike Mayock, a so-called NFL Draft expert, has seen explosive players such as Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, Randy Moss, and even Bo Jackson in his lifetime. Yet Mayock still calls former West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin the most explosive he has ever seen. At West Virginia, in his 4 year college receiving days, Austin went for 3413 yards and 29 touchdowns. His receiving skills aren’t what makes him explosive though. Austin is an explosive receiver, return man, and even a good running back. In college he had 5 total return touchdowns, including two 100 yard kickoff returns. As a running back, Austin ran for 643 yards last season alone, 2nd among all wide receivers only to Notre Dame’s Theo Riddick. In the NFL, Austin hopes to prove himself as the Rams #1 receiver after Danny Amendola spurned them to go to New England. If Austin can stay healthy the entire season, this award may be his to lose considering he is by far the best rookie receiver this season, plus he has the ability to play almost anywhere in the Rams offense. One things for sure, St. Louis needs Austin to be productive if they want any shot of beating out the 49ers and the Seahawks in the toughest division in football.

OTHER POSSIBLE WINNERS: DeAndre Hopkins, WR Houston Texans, Le’Veon Bell, RB Pittsburgh Steelers, Giovani Bernard, RB Cincinnati Bengals

AP Defensive Rookie of the Year- Star Lotuelei, DT Carolina Panthers

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In one of his earliest mocks, ESPN’s NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper, had Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei inside the top 5 of his Big Board. Somehow, Lotulelei fell all the way to #14 overall and was taken by the Carolina Panthers. Coming out of college, Lotulelei was praised at being very good at stopping the run single-handedly. This could be a big advantage for the Panthers who were middle of the league at run stopping. Last season, Carolina had a gaping need in the middle of the defensive line. This season, Lotulelei will hope to be a big help, as a lot of teams will try to focus on the pass rush from two good defensive ends in Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, as well as the linebacker duo of Jon Beason and Luke Kuechly. If the opposing offensive line is having too much trouble with these players, Lotulelei will be given a chance to improve his pass rush and record some sacks this season. If Star Lotulelei plays like he did his college career, he will have no trouble taking home this award and giving Carolina back-to-back-to-back Rookie of the Year awards (Cam Newton, Kuechly, Lotulelei).

OTHER POSSIBLE WINNERS: Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, DE Detroit Lions, Dee Milliner, CB New York Jets, Dion Jordan, DE Miami Dolphins, Datone Jones, DE Green Bay Packers

AP Coach of the Year- Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers

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After the 2010 San Francisco 49ers debacle of a season, where Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary lead them to a 6-10 record,the Niners have been competitive. The main reason, former NFL quarterback and Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh was hired. In 2011, his first season, he lead the 49ers to a 13-3 record, good enough for the #2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye. The next round against the Saints, San Fran won on a late TD pass to Vernon Davis. In the NFC Championship game vs the Giants, the game was all but locked up for the 49ers until punt returner Kyle Williams fumbled twice, once in OT, setting Giants’ kicker Lawrence Tynes up for the game-winning field-goal. This past season, they were just as good finishing with a record of 11-4-1, again with the #2 seed and a first round bye. They defeated the Packers in their first game after Colin Kaepernick set a record for  most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game, with 181 yards. The next week, they defeated the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 after coming back from down 17-0. This win sent them to the Super Bowl to face the other Harbaugh, Jim’s brother John, and his Baltimore Ravens. They came within 3 points of their sixth super bowl championship. Jim Harbaugh has lead these San Francisco 49ers to back-to-back NFC Championship games and 1 Super Bowl in 2 years as a head coach. Harbaugh’s team definitely has the power to do this again, helping him on his way to the AP Coach of the Year.

OTHER POSSIBLE WINNERS: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, John Fox, Denver Broncos, Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints, Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks

AP Offensive Player of the Year- Drew Brees, QB New Orleans Saints

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On this award, I could take a favorite and say that Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson, or even Peyton Manning will win. But, I’m taking the “underdog” in New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. In 170 games, Brees has thrown for 45,919, more than the career totals of Tom Brady, Steve Young, Troy Aikman and even Joe Montana. Those 45,000+ yards are good for 8th all time, 25,919 yards behind all-time leader Brett Favre who played for 20 seasons. In Brees’ first full 8 seasons, he threw for over 30,000 yards, putting him on track to break Favre’s record. In those years, Brees never really had a dominant receiver. This year Brees has Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Lance Moore, three receivers who aren’t flashy but get the job done. Since 2008, Brees has thrown for over 5000 yards 3 times. In NFL history, throwing for over 5000 yards has only been done 6 times. So basically to sum everything up, Drew Brees may not be the favorite pick for this award, but, he is on track to break Brett Favre’s record, has thrown for over 5000 yards in consecutive seasons, and nothing major in his offense has really changed. That is why I am picking the so-called “underdog”.

OTHER POSSIBLE WINNERS: Adrian Peterson, RB Minnesota Vikings, Aaron Rodgers, QB Green Bay Packers, Calvin Johnson, WR Detroit Lions, Peyton Manning, QB Denver Broncos

AP Defensive Player of the Year- J.J. Watt, DE Houston Texans

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In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans took a chance on a DE from Wisconsin with the 11th overall pick. His name, J.J. Watt. In his first season, Watt was middle of the pack, finishing the regular season with 56 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 4 passes defensed, and a blocked field goal. In his first playoff game, Watt picked off Andy Dalton and returned it all the way, helping Houston win 31-10. The next week vs. Baltimore, Watt sacked Joe Flacco 2.5 times in a 20-13 loss. Last year however, J.J. Watt really broke out. He lead the league with 20.5 sacks (just 2 off Michael Strahan’s record), while also having 81 tackles, 23 of them for a loss of yards, and 4 forced fumbles. J.J. Swatt, as he was nicknamed by the Texans fan base, also deflected 16 passes, an insane number for a non-defensive back. After last season, Watt was voted to the Pro Bowl, a unanimous choice for the All-Pro team, won AFC defensive player of the year, and was 1 vote away from being the unanimous decision for AP Defensive Player of the Year. With nowhere to go but up, look for J.J. Watt to have another great season and become the first player since Lawrence Taylor to win this award in back-to-back seasons.

OTHER POSSIBLE WINNERS: Von Miller, OLB Denver Broncos, Patrick Willis, ILB San Francisco 49ers, Richard Sherman, CB Seattle Seahawks, Aldon Smith, OLB San Francisco 49ers

AP Comeback Player of the Year- Robert Griffin III, QB Washington Redskins

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The Washington Redskins surprised everybody last year as the won the NFC East for the first time since 1999. The main reason for their success was rookie sensation, quarterback Robert Griffin III. In their postseason game against Seattle, down by just a touchdown, Griffin fumbled the snap and suffered a game-ending injury. After the game (a 24-14 Seahawks victory), an MRI revealed Griffin had torn his LCL and his ACL and he would have to undergo surgery to repair them. As most sports fans know, this is probably the most difficult injury to come back from. Last season however, Adrian Peterson rushed for over 2000 yards after coming back for an almost identical injury. Griffin is said to have made a “superhuman” recovery and now looks like he will be ready for Week 1. Last season, Griffin threw for 3200 yards and 20 touchdowns, while rushing for 815 yards and 7 touchdowns. Griffin ended last season by winning rookie of the year…while sitting out one game and being injured in 3 other games. If Griffin is healthy this season, look for him to increase his numbers, lead the Redskins back to the playoffs, and take home this award.

OTHER POSSIBLE WINNERS: Darrelle Revis, CB Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Maurice Jones-Drew, RB Jacksonville Jaguars, Lardarius Webb, CB Baltimore Ravens

AP Most Valuable Player- Peyton Manning, QB Denver Broncos

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No NFL player in the history of the league has been awarded more MVP awards than Peyton Manning. Not Joe Montana. Not Tom Brady. Not any other of the greatest players in NFL history. In 2003, with one of the greatest receiving cores in NFL history, Peyton won his first MVP award. The next season, Manning did it again. 4 years later he did it again, tying Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, and Brett Favre with 3 MVP awards. The next year he won his 4th award, setting him apart from all the other NFL greats. Now, after the signing of Wes Welker, who is one of, if not the greatest slot receiver in recent memory, Peyton now has another great receiving core. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker make up what NFL.com calls “the best trio of wideouts in the game.” Manning threw for 4659 yards last season with just Thomas and Decker. To put that in perspective, in 2003 with a top-10 receiving core of all-time featuring future Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne combined with Dallas Clark, Brandon Stokley, and Edgerrin James, Manning threw for almost 400 yards less than he did last season. This season, Manning has a offensive loaded with weapons in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, Andre Caldwell, Montee Ball, and Knowshon Moreno. It would be too much to say that this years MVP award is Peyton’s to lose, but he has to be the early, clear favorite. Winning this award for the 5th time would guarantee him as a first-ballot Hall of Famer and as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game of football.

OTHER POSSIBLE WINNERS: Aaron Rodgers, QB Green Bay Packers, Drew Brees, QB New Orleans Saints, Adrian Peterson, RB Minnesota Vikings

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